Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Friday January 24th, 2014, 6:16pm

Schneider, Jobless Illinoisans Urge Congress To Extend Emergency Unemployment Insurance

    The notion that unemployment benefits are a disincentive to look for work is both false and misguided, U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL,10) said at a discussion Friday in Lake County about the need to extend emergency unemployment insurance.

"People who are recipients of unemployment benefits ... are people who are actively and aggressively looking for work," the congressman said at the discussion, held at the Job Center of Lake County. "The gridlock that's the carryover from the last Congress that has me frustrated ... is unfortunate, because it's hurting communities and holding our small businesses back."

Emergency unemployment insurance for those who have been jobless for longer than 26 weeks expired in late December. Some 1.3 million Americans and counting have lost their jobless aid due to the expiration, including more than 80,000 people in Illinois.

Lake Bluff resident and single mother of two Summer Gerber, 29, is one of those individuals who saw her unemployment benefits expire.

"At this point, I hardly turn my heaters on. My kids and I, we snuggle up in blankets," said Gerber, who has been out of work since May. She was laid off from her job as a restaurant manager just days before she was set to go on temporary medical leave.

"Instead of going to the grocery stores to buy food, I'm hitting up local food pantries," she said of her current situation. "Come the first of February, I don't know how I'm paying my rent, and I've never been in a position where I couldn't pay my rent."

Congress has been at a standoff about renewing the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program that expired December 28, with Republicans and Democrats clashing about how to pay for it. Federal lawmakers failed to reach an agreement before breaking for a weeklong recess last Friday, but the Senate could take up the issue next week. Extending unemployment benefits will also probably be mentioned in President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday.

Schneider said House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH,8) has not showed any indication that he intends on calling legislation to renew the program for a vote.

"The challenge we have is the Tea Party and folks aligned with them are fighting this," the congressman stressed.

The push back from some Republicans over extending emergency benefits comes at a time when most Americans believe the federal government should provide unemployment benefits for at least a year to people who can't find a job. According to a new poll from Fox News, 36 percent of Americans said the federal government should provided unemployment benefits for one year, 13 percent said for a year and a half and 9 percent said for more than two years.

Just 26 percent think unemployment insurance should last less than a year, according to the survery conducted on January 19 through January 21, 

Failing to extend unemployment insurance not only impacts the long-term unemployed, it also hurts the economy, Schneider explained. In Illinois, every $1 in unemployment benefits turns into a $1.60 value added to the local economy, he noted.

"Cutting these benefits affects the entire economic structure of the community, and a 1.6 multiplier is really significant," the congressman said.

Meanwhile, a national survey from Careerbuilder released Thursday highlighted the tough reality many long-term unemployed Americans face.

The survey showed that 30 percent of Americans who have been unemployed for 12 months or longer and are currently looking for work have not been able to land any job interviews after having lost work. Of the more than 300 long-term unemployed individuals surveyed, 44 percent said they search for jobs every day, while 43 percent look every week.

As a result of being unemployed for at least a year, 25 percent of those surveyed said they have not had enough money for food, 12 percent said they maxed out credit cards to pay other bills and 10 percent said they lost their house or apartment because they could not pay their rent or mortgage.

To help with expenses, 39 percent said they rely on their partner or spouse for income, 11 percent depend on their parents for financial assistance and 9 percent said they borrow money from their family and friends.

When questioned about their challenges when searching for a job, 63 percent said they think the amount of time they've been out of work is a deal breaker for many potential employers. For long-term unemployed individuals ages 55 and older, 92 percent said they believe their age works against them in the job market.

At Friday's discussion, unemployed Highland Park resident Gabrielle Jacobson said she could identify with the recent survey. Jacobson said she spends about five hours almost every day searching for jobs online and filling out applications.

Jacobson, who saw her jobless aid expire in December, had been collecting unemployment benefits since June after being laid off from Shell Vacations, LLC, a Northbrook-based timeshare company that was acquired by another firm in 2012 and eventually left the state.

Jacobson said she thinks her age and time out of work has put her at a disadvantage in the job market. She asked that her age not be published for this story, citing concerns that it could hurt her chances at landing a job opportunity if a potential employer were to read it.

She explained that she has also been advised by "every single career consultant to never put my graduation date on my resume because it dates me."

"They will know [my age] instantly," Jacobson stressed. "I've left 15 years of experience off of my resume, just gone ... What I'm seeing is younger people are being offered lower salaries for my skill set ... (employers) are reluctant to put their money into seasoned, mature, experienced employees."

Now that her unemployment insurance has expired, Jacobson said her family is getting by with the income from her husband's job. Her husband, however, is a scrap metal buyer. If there's no manufacturing happening in the area, there's no scrap, she pointed out.

"No scrap, we have no income," she said, explaining that she has already had to tap savings set aside for her two young children's education.

Overall, Gerber stressed that extending unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed is not a Democratic or Republican issue.

"This is about American families who are faced with a lot of struggles that they've never faced before," she said. Congress needs to "put aside political differences and do the right thing for these families."

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I am that person that get up in the morning and put in application after application on the internet. Now that my unemployment has been cut off I am forced to live with my sister and her family and it is pretty crowded. Please reconsider extended the unemployment because some of really need that money to survive and there are alot of us really looking for jobs everyday but haven't found one yet.  This money really help to get the unemployment office, interviews and pay for all the everyday stuff we need to survive.